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Reconnecting With Your Spouse

It doesn't take a rocket scientist to recognize that day-to-day life filled with work and chores and kids and (stick your ball-and-chain problem here) can wear down even the most loving couple. You stop making an effort. You start focusing on the negative things in your relationship instead of the stuff that made you fall for each other in the first place.

That's what happened to my husband and me. It's not that we weren't in love anymore. It's just that it became extremely hard for us to show it by the time we finished our workdays; our long commutes; bathing, reading to, and tucking in the kids; and scarfing down leftover chicken nuggets for our (late) dinner. Kissing each other became an afterthought. Conversations were mostly tactical: Who's going to take Mari to ballet? Lila needs a new pair of sneakers already? How are we going to pay the tax bill?

The simple things we used to do to connect as husband and wife  -- giggle over a glass of wine, kiss for no other reason than to feel each other's lips, make love sans one eye on the clock  -- went the way of the public pay phone.

And so one day last year, in a rare moment of grown-up clarity, Nick and I decided we needed to do something to save our collective sanity  -- and our marriage. We ran away. We sold our house in New Jersey and moved to Georgia, where life is way more affordable and a lot less hectic.

Now Nick works from home. While our 6-year-old and 3-year-old are in school, I run errands, write, and store up enough energy for mommy time after school. These days we can all eat dinner at a reasonable hour and get the girls to bed with enough wiggle room for us to spend quality time with each other.

A drastic decision? Maybe. A necessary one? For us, absolutely. Sometimes you have to do something bold to take your marriage back to the days when the two of you were giving each other the attention you both needed and deserved.

Of course, you don't have to move to another city to do this; much smaller moves can have a wonderful payoff. Consider stealing one of the following ideas to help you remember why you said "I do."

Contributing editor Denene Millner is the coauthor, with her husband, Nick Chiles, of A Love Story.

Take a day off together

Beatrice and Mario Franco of Euless, Texas, each work about 40 hours a week. By the time they get home at 6:30 p.m., they have only a couple of hours to spend with their children, Brittney, 6, and Aleesa, 14 months, before their kids' bedtime  -- and their own soon after.

To buy themselves some quality adults-only time, the Francos schedule a joint vacation day once a month. They take their kids to school and daycare just like normal, and then go out for a nice breakfast: "You know, where you can actually eat your food while it's still hot," Beatrice jokes. Then they hang out  -- taking a nap or a walk in the mall or doing whatever they want during the rest of their vacation day.

They don't tell family, friends, or anyone else who might disturb their free time that they're at home. And then they end the day by picking up their kids as if they had just gotten off work.

Make it work for you
If you're saving up your vacation days for that summer trip to Disney World, get yourselves some time by dialing Grandma (or auntie or best girlfriend) and procure the (free) services of the one person who'll actually love helping out while you two steal away.

Grandma not available? Swap sitting with a neighbor. Or check out other low-cost alternatives. Peggy Wolff and her husband, Tom, of Burnsville, Minnesota, joined their local YMCA  -- which has free childcare for members  -- and started working out there together while their four kids stay in the supervised play area.

If your child is young enough, you could even take a scenic car ride  -- what little one can keep his eyes open during a relaxing ride?  -- and talk while you enjoy the view. The point is to eliminate the stress level that comes with kid drama by, well, getting rid of the kids for a while.

Have gift Fridays

Chrisena Coleman of Hackensack, New Jersey, can talk a hot hole into your head, but her fianc¿¿, Roosevelt Hall, is about as communicative as a bedpost. And that drove Coleman batty, particularly when she wanted to talk to Hall not just about their two school-age sons, Jordan and Justin, but about his day at work, his opinion on current issues, or his feelings about their seven-year relationship.

Finally, Coleman put a twist on their "date night Fridays" by suggesting they show up to their outing with presents in hand. "We had to give the gift and explain its significance," Coleman says, noting that at the very least, she imagined that they'd have one thing to talk about over dinner.

In the beginning, the gifts were pretty standard: He'd give her a charm for her charm bracelet, she'd present him with tickets to sporting events. But soon they started getting much more creative, like the time Hall wanted to poke fun at their running argument over the heating bill (she turns the thermostat up; he wants it low). "He found me a giant pair of green-fleece, footed pajamas," Coleman laughs. "I looked like Gumby. But I stayed warm and appreciated his effort."

The beauty of this is that they started looking forward to Friday nights because they were doing something they hadn't done since they were dating: looking for ways to make each other laugh.

Make it work for you
You don't have to go out on a date or even blow a lot of money to do this with your mate  -- here's a case where the thought really does count more than the price tag. You can even set a spending limit. After all, how many ways would you melt if your husband went to the local antique shop, purchased a $3 skeleton key, and presented it as "the key to his heart"? Just ask Nick how many ways he heard "thank you" from me for that one.

Give each other space

Most men are hardly shy about reserving a night out with the guys now and then, or sneaking down to the basement, remote in hand, for an hour or two while you figure out what to do with the kids. Instead of taking his cue, though, mostly we wives get ticked off that he's having a good time without us.

Well, it's time to practice the art of getting even. To keep their ten-year-old marriage charged, Angelou and James Ezeilo of Snellville, Georgia, each take turns having some quality alone time at least once or twice a week, leaving their sons, Miles, 7, and Cole, 4, in the other's care. Angelou gets her nails done, goes window-shopping, or simply shuts her bedroom door and falls into a juicy novel; James plays basketball at the local gym, goes out for a drink with his pals, or hits Best Buy to drool over the latest gadgets.

"I can't tell you how good I feel after I've read a book or gotten in a workout," she says. "James quickly learned that after my 'me' time, I'm a lot happier and more forgiving of the little things that annoy me."

Make it work for you
The idea here is to give each other a break by keeping the kids busy. That means you can't let them harass your husband to set up the DVD player when he's watching the game. And he can't say "Ask Mom" when the kids want lunch just as you're about to slip into your leisurely Saturday-afternoon bath.

And the benefit? Absence really does make the heart grow fonder.

Revive a hobby

Instead of settling into the married-with-kids rut at their Westborough, Massachusetts, home, fitness buffs Ken and Jessica Wilan head for the hills  -- or the double jogging stroller and yoga mats.

On some evenings, they do yoga with their 2-year-old twins Jack and Adam; on others, they put the boys in the stroller and go for evening jogs. Some weekends they all go hiking. "When things work out, it gives us time together," Wilan says. "We talk about our long-term goals on our hikes, while the jogging is more a time to go over day-to-day stuff." Make it work for you
While circumstances can make it pretty difficult to take up what you loved to do when you were childless  -- whether it was dining at fancy restaurants or going to hear a band  -- with a little planning, you can probably find something to do together that'll make you just as happy.

Some nights Nick and I open a bottle of wine, turn down the lights, and listen to music. The two of you could start your own private book club or simply pull out the old deck of Uno. The point is, you'll be sharing an activity and talking about non-kid-related topics.

Be goofy in love

Remember how it felt when your husband gave you flowers for no reason? Or that look on his face when you'd pull out the sexy lingerie and actually wear it? True, none of that's going down with kids running all over the place, wanting attention, forcing you to break that last $20 for a pack of diapers. But it's only fair to your relationship that you at least attempt some completely impractical but loving gesture.

Surprise your husband by writing him a sweet nothing on the steamy mirror while he's in the shower.

Pen a love letter and give it to him one line at a time every morning with breakfast (or stash it in his lunch box, suit pocket, or briefcase if he eats on the run).

Nothin' says lovin' like a good quickie  -- according to many of the moms I talked to. (Of course, none of this lusty lot would use their names, but apparently they're all sneaking in sex on a regular basis.)

Some of their suggestions: Give your child a bowl of his favorite snack, fluff the pillows on your bed, and let him watch a DVD upstairs while you get it on somewhere else in the house. Or wake up a half hour earlier and hop in the shower together. (Just remember to lock the door  -- your child will be none the wiser.) If you work near each other, you could even have a lunch "date."

Whatever you do, it doesn't have to be expensive, time-consuming, or done while the kids are away. The only thing necessary is a little creativity and a willingness to make each other smile.

Accept your roles
Of course, using soft lights and music to reconnect doesn't hold a candle to getting yourselves into the mind-set that you're a mom and a dad and life isn't always easy, but it's worth it because you're doing these things with the love of your life. In this regard, the spark you're looking for is really just around the corner. The kids will grow older and less demanding, and you and your mate will stop hustling and settle together into a smooth groove.

Now that Nick and I have started appreciating our relationship for what it is  -- we're married with children  -- we've come to realize that there's something incredibly sexy about tossing bubbles at each other while the girls take their bath, or rocking our babies to sleep, or snuggling up together for the latest episode of Commander in Chief (even if all we do afterward is doze off in each other's arms). On good days, I'm convinced that heaven must be like this.

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